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Legal Issues: Requiring Full Real Names in Forums

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  • Legal Issues: Requiring Full Real Names in Forums

    Recently our mountain bike club made the decision to require full real names in our forums. This information is held in a user profile field and is displayed in most areas of the forums (posts, member public profile etc.) Without getting into the argument about why we made this choice (in short it is to try and keep our organization at a certain professional level) I do have some legal questions.

    Recently we have been under fire for doing this. Most don't want their names seen in search engines. Some say it might open them up to searches by their employers or future employers. One actually listed a few well thought out questions:
    1. Displaying the names of minors who might be posting/subscribing is a huge risk. Who’s verifying what and how? Your club better have established manuals documenting policies and procedures lest something negative occur with a minor;
    2. Freedom of Information Act – does your club want to be an extension of wire taps and other de facto espionage?
    3. HIPAA Compliance and other Federal privacy protection acts – just how secure are your systems?;
    4. If your club is incorporated or non-profit; if you’re going to require “real names” you’re going to have to provide evidence to other members that you’ve performed sufficient diligence to establish the veracity of all names, not just some names. Who’s going to perform and document this?
    Note: we do require people to agree to our rules when registering. We also use the COPPA system and do require DOB.

    If anyone knows the legalities of this situation and has any thoughts I'd really appreciate it.

  • #2
    Well, first off... what on earth does HIPAA have to do with your site? HIPAA is about protecting one's medical records. In addition, most Federal privacy protection acts apply to government or health institutions, not private organizations.

    Likewise, the Freedom of Information Act is also something that's irrelevent. Unless you're the US Department of Justice or some other US government agency, this has nothing to do with you.

    Furthermore, it doesn't matter if your club is incorporated or non-profit or not. Requiring real names to be displayed is a choice you make, and if you state that real names are required as a part of your registration agreement, then there's absolutely no such thing as "sufficient diligence to establish the veracity of all names" that needs to be done on your part. You have no critical need that 100.00000% of the names are real names and you have no legal obligation to do so. I am not a lawyer, so please don't take this, or anything else that I've said, as legal advice. However, I've studied quite a bit of civil law, and this is what the textbooks and precedence have to say.

    One issue you may have to address, however, is displaying the names of minors. COPPA applies only to those under 13, not 18. Your safest best would be to limit registrations to 18+, or optimally, set up a system similar to Amazon's Real Name system, where everybody can register, but further steps must be taken to verify a real name.

    Some relevent links to learn more about HIPAA/FOIA/etc.
    FOIA (Revised May 2006):
    HIPAA (Quick facts on PDF):
    Last edited by DirectPixel; Fri 11 Aug '06, 9:34am.


    • #3
      I require real names and keep them hidden.
      Only I can view them.
      ...steven (vB3.8) | (vB4.2) |
      "I tried to clean this up but this thread is beyond redemption." - Steve Machol


      • #4
        I appreciate the replies and links.


        • #5
          I think you will find you need a privacy policy with coppa, this is for under 13's.

          I think this website gives you all the info you need.

          If you require the real name it will be the parents responsibility to allow the child access to your site, your privacy policy should contain what info is displayed so the parents will know what information the site collects about the child and what it does with the information.

          Other than that I dont think there are laws?



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